If the fee is fair, county should accept outside garbage

Published 8:21 am Friday, August 31, 2012

This Tuesday, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners granted County Administrator Gary Breedlove the authority to continue negotiations with The City of Tallahasee, Fla., and Leon County, Fla., with the possibility those municipalities might dispose of their garbage in the county’s landfill on U.S. Highway 27 South.

Breedlove told commissioners that the county could see $3 million-plus in additional revenue, if it can get the municipalities to agree to the county’s $22-per-ton disposal fee. Currently, Decatur County citizens and the City of Bainbridge pay $24.50-per-ton to use the county’s landfill.

While it is not ideal to use a landfill to balance the county’s budget, it is readily apparent that there is no other viable option. Just for this fiscal year, the county passed a $30.8 million budget that contained a deficit of approximately $1.2 million — and this was even after already making cuts of $6.8 million from the fiscal year 2011-12 budget of $37.6 million. In order to help make up that deficit, the county recently took out a low-interest $1.5 million Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) loan.

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While the TAN loan is low-interest, it’s still interest that the county doesn’t need to be paying right now. By continuing to borrow money, the county is just kicking the can down the road and putting off the problem for later. The county’s budget is arguably a “house of cards” that is liable to collapse without a much-needed influx of revenue.

There is no doubt that the county would not be in this bad of financial shape if better decisions had been made in the past. However, there is nothing that we can do to go back in time, and we still have a serious budgetary crisis that needs to be addressed. While it’s not the perfect solution, the county’s landfill is the only operation that can generate revenue, and we need all the revenue that we can generate right now. If we cannot balance our budget, there are only two other options and neither is a popular one — raise taxes or cut services.

If the county arrives at an agreeable fee and begins to take garbage from the Florida municipalities, we hope that the county will immediately re-negotiate with the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County citizens and allow them to pay the same rate. While it may hurt the ultimate “profit” of the landfill by cutting local customers’ fee rate, it is absolutely the right thing to do.